slipperyslopeMany pro-life Catholics and evangelicals cheered when the Supreme Court ruled that small business employers don’t have to pay for abortifacients in health insurance plans. But could support for conscience rights lead down a slippery slope? “Some slopes are indeed slippery, and we do well to approach them with caution,” says theologian and philosopher Richard J. Mouw, “Which is why I take it seriously when I find myself challenged by a slippery slope argument about something that I advocate.”

My challenge in this regard has to do with the recent court decisions regarding Hobby Lobby and Wheaton College. In each case employers have resisted health insurance arrangements that violate their sincere opposition to funding abortions. I share their views, and have argued that these sincerely held convictions ought to be granted legal status—which is basically the perspective set forth recently by the majority of Supreme Court justices.

Here, however, is the slippery slope challenge in this context. Suppose a company owned by Jehovah’s Witnesses refused to support a health plan for their employees that permitted blood transfusions? Or what if a Christian Science employer refused to provide any health insurance at all? Surely those are sincerely held convictions that have a right to be considered for protection in providing employ benefits.

The challenge is legitimate. And I don’t have an immediate response that settles the concern in any satisfactory manner. But I do take the challenge seriously. I have to—if I want the defenders of same-sex marriage also to take my challenge to them seriously.

Dr. Mouw raises an important point for consideration. I too take that challenge seriously, but I also think I have a response that can settle the issue in a satisfactory manner. Indeed, I think the worst-case outcome has likely already been settled.

Slippery slope arguments are often misunderstood and many people think they are always logically fallacious. As a general rule, if someone summarily dismisses a slippery slope claim, they are probably not the type of person who understands how arguments work. A full defense of slippery slopes against supporters of folk fallacies will have to wait for another day. For now, I’ll simply refer to and recommend one of the best analyses and explanations of the slippery slope, Eugene Volokh’s 2003 article in the Harvard Law Review, “The Mechanisms of the Slippery Slope.” In his paper Volokh says,

(more…)

media-spoonfeeding-cartoonLet me start by saying you can fill entire football stadiums with things I don’t know. I don’t anything about fly-fishing. I have never figured out how to score tennis. I cannot identify (although my dad tried his hardest to teach me) birds by their songs. I could go on, but you get the idea.

With that said, I’m often called upon by my job to write about things I don’t know much about. I have to do a lot of reading and research, figure out what sources are credible and which are shaky (hello, Wikipedia!) Sometimes, I make mistakes, and readers point them out. I happily make corrections; who wants to be wrong?

Apparently, a lot of folks don’t mind being wrong. And many of those folks occupy the media. And they feed you stuff that isn’t quite right, is misinformed or is downright wrong. In the Wild West that is today’s media, we have to be smart about who we choose as our guides. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Obama’s Spiritual Advisor Jim Wallis Goes On Race Rant
Alexander Griswold, The Daily Caller

So what does this man, who has the ear of the leader of the free world, actually believe? Well on Sunday, June 29, Wallis gave a speech at Wild Goose Festival, a progressive Christian music festival in Hot Springs, North Carolina, entitled, “Racism is America’s Original Sin.”

Nonprofits’ contraceptive cases next for justices
Associated Press

How much distance from an immoral act is enough? That’s the difficult question behind the next legal dispute over religion, birth control and the health law that is likely to be resolved by the Supreme Court.

The Constitution Isn’t a Liberal Or Conservative Document
David Azerrad, The Daily Signal

The Constitution, after all, is neither a liberal nor a conservative document. It does not prescribe any particular policies. In fact, it allows pretty much any policy to be enacted (though not necessarily at the national level).

European Court Decides Church Autonomy Case
Mark Movsesian, First Things

Russian judge calls clerical celibacy a human rights violation.

davebratIn a piece today for the NYT Magazine, economics reporter Binyamin Appelbaum examines David Brat’s fusion of faith and free-market economics. Appelbaum finds that mixture problematic, to say the least, but it’s hard to sort out whether it is the religious faith or the free-market sympathies that Appelbaum finds more troubling.

In the opening paragraph, Appelbaum asserts that before Brat’s rise to prominence “there was plenty of skepticism about whether he merited the label of academic economist.” Who these skeptics are, who knew so much about Brat “even before” his “out-of-nowhere” victory, we are simply left to ponder. It seems some of his colleagues at Randolph-Macon College now harbor such skepticism. (Brat is running against a Randolph-Macon sociologist, Jack Trammell. Brat once wrote that “Capitalism is the major organizing force in modern life, whether we like it or not. It is here to stay. If the sociologists ever grasp this basic fact, their enterprise will be much more fruitful.”)

Brat’s academic record is a wortwhile question to take up, and one that there has been a great deal of interest in following his primary victory. I, like many others, wanted to find out more, and went in search of Brat’s publications (with the help of one of our interns). I’ve had a chance to look at a few, and even turned up the paper on Ayn Rand that had gained such notice. The Rand paper turned out to be a co-authored piece with a student, and something which barely qualified as a poorly-edited introduction to a conference presentation. It is certainly not a smoking gun for tracking down Randian sympathies.

The problem with Appelbaum’s piece isn’t that he is asking questions about Brat’s academic record. These questions should be asked. The problem is the tone of Appelbaum’s inquisition and his presumption against the coherence of Brat’s position. The sarcasm oozes from Appelbaum’s prose: Brat “is certainly not in danger of winning a Nobel Prize.” Likewise Brat has written “discursive papers devoid of math,” “cited Wikipedia as a source,” and “never been published in a significant journal.”
(more…)

moses and the burning bushI have recently offered several warnings against self-chosen sacrifice and self-willed religion, noting that, as Christians, ours is a service not of our own design or choosing, and when we orient our lives accordingly, it’s far more powerful because of it.

Over at Catholic Exchange, Benjamin Mann offers a nice complement to such warnings, digging a bit deeper into the question of discernment, which is central to all of this. (HT)

Writing specifically of our current attitudes about vocation, Mann observes an “unnecessary indecision and anxiety” in modern Western culture — one that is “shaped by the modern sensibility of intense self-consciousness, and by the consumer culture’s obsession with options and the ‘pursuit of happiness.’”

We are living in a world filled with choices and opportunities for “self-empowerment.” And yet with such tools comes a temptation to trust too highly in our personal plans and powers. If we give way to these temptations, our perception of calling is bound to suffer. “Consciously or not,” Mann writes, “we sometimes expect a vocation to solve all of our problems, answer all of our questions, and satisfy all of our desires. But these are not the purposes of a vocation.”

So what is the purpose of vocation? (more…)

Since 2000, New York City residents have observed the shut-down of 91 Catholic schools. These closures are typically the result of parents’ inability to pay tuition costs. This presents not only a problem to the would-be students, but to the public-at-large. The civic benefits provided through a Catholic education amount to a public good. Graduation rates for Catholic schools top those of public institutions, propelling more students to college, creating future community leaders. A robust civil society such as this is contingent upon strong educational institutions, for which it is critical to incentivize the public to invest.

The Education Investment Tax Credit bill would have curtailed this problem by providing a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for each charitable donation to any private or parochial school scholarship fund, including Protestant and Jewish institutions. However, the mandate perished in the back room of the state legislature, despite support from both parties as summer recess commenced. The use of an incentive structure would have provided up to $300 million to the neediest children in the state of New York. Half of this funding would have been designated to donations to public schools for the arts, music, and athletics so as to eliminate “pay-to-play” costs to parents.

This tax credit would not only have been an investment in the future of at-risk students, but an investment toward a community’s future. In this respect, New York residents would be incentivized to endow education philanthropy, in exchange for lower taxes. Individuals would have the autonomy to support private or parochial institutions of their choosing, empowering the individual to decide what is the best use of their assets. (more…)

When President Obama signed Executive Order 13653 about a year ago, he relabeled the great debate that was known first as global warming and then climate change to “resiliency.” He set up an Interagency Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience with three co-chairs and representatives from at least 30 listed departments, plus appointees. He also created the Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, which will be made up of more than 2 dozen representatives across the nation including Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell.

The task force “will provide recommendations to the President on removing barriers to resilient investments, modernizing federal grant and loan programs to better support local efforts and developing information and tools they need to prepare” according to the White House.  So it looks like there will be a carrot-and-stick of government funding for local government units.

The task force has already met with President Obama twice, in December and January, to begin working on its recommendations. It is on a tight clock as Obama has asked to get responses within a year to begin working towards implementation. And according to Mayor Heartwell Obama is willing to do whatever it takes to get the recommendations put into motion, “The President made it very clear to us that he expects that what he’s going to get done over the next 3 years will largely be done through executive order”. (more…)

Nahad's baby awaiting burial

Nahad’s baby awaiting burial

Myanmar is a mess. Years of ethnic and religious warfare have left deep scars in both the Buddhist and Muslim communities there. There have been cries of ethnic cleansing charged against Buddhists, but very few are held responsible for crimes against Muslims.

When an issue is this enormous, it is often hard to think about it in human terms. After all, “violence against Muslims” or “ethnic cleansing” isn’t the same as “my friend was killed.” The perspective shifts when there are faces, names, grief and empathy. I don’t know Shamshu Nahad, but I suppose that, like nearly every woman, she was looking forward to holding her baby in her arms, caressing the child’s cheeks, watching the little changes that happen in the first few weeks after birth. But none of this will happen now.

Hours after Shamshu Nahad gave birth to her second child, a beautiful baby girl, her husband was digging its grave.

The tiny corpse, wrapped in white cloth, was placed on a straw mat and lowered into the moist earth, neighbors and relatives bowing their heads as they quietly recited Muslim prayers.

Like the child’s life, the ceremony was brief, over in a matter of minutes.

(more…)

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Tuesday, July 8, 2014

FLOW_EXILE (1)Christians are called to be in the world but not of it (John 17:14-15). But what does that mean for how we should live?

At TGC Stephen J. Grabill, the director of programs and international at the Acton Institute, explains why living faithfully in exile and seeking the shalom of our cities are two big ideas that the church needs to embrace in order to recover a robust “in-but-not-of” theology of culture:

God’s people have always been—and are now—living in a permanent state of “in between.” The prophet Jeremiah gives us the essence of living faithfully in this state: “To seek the shalom of the city where I have sent you into exile” (Jer. 29:4-7). In City of God, Augustine builds on this exilic theology. His metaphor of the city of God and the city of man with their different loves and orientations is the archetypal expression of the tension and anxiety that characterizes our “in between” existence.

More recently, people like David Kim and James Davison Hunter have used the concept of exile to articulate an understanding of culture that takes a long-view of engagement, vocation, and public discipleship—that is, the concept of exile retires the church’s short-term, winner-take-all, scorched-earth, culture-war approach to addressing the hostile forces of secularization that are working to eradicate the imprint of Christianity in the West.

Being in “exile” means that God’s people live somewhere other than their true home. For example, God’s people were in “exile” when they were banished from the Garden, lived as slaves in Egypt, and were carted off to Babylon. Similarly, after the resurrection of Christ, God’s people were scattered throughout the world to live as “sojourners and exiles” (1 Pet. 2:11). So, too, for Christians today.

Read more . . .

Today’s edition of Prufrock (subscribe here!) notes the forthcoming release of Paul Hammond, Milton and the People (Oxford, July 29):

Who are ‘the people’ in Milton’s writing? They figure prominently in his texts from early youth to late maturity, in his poetry and in his prose works; they are invoked as the sovereign power in the state and have the right to overthrow tyrants; they are also, as God’s chosen people, the guardians of the true Protestant path against those who would corrupt or destroy the Reformation. They are entrusted with the preservation of liberty in both the secular and the spiritual spheres. And yet Milton is uncomfortably aware that the people are rarely sufficiently moral, pure, intelligent, or energetic to discharge those responsibilities which his political theory and his theology would place upon them. When given the freedom to choose, they too often prefer servitude to freedom. Milton and the People traces the twists and turns of Milton’s terminology and rhetoric across the whole range of his writings, in verse and prose, as he grapples with the problem that the people have a calling to which they seem not to be adequate. Indeed, they are often referred to not as ‘the people’ but as ‘the vulgar’, as well as ‘the rude multitude’, ‘the rabble’, and even as ‘scum’. Increasingly his rhetoric imagines that liberty or salvation may lie not with the people but in the hands of a small group or even an individual. An additional thread which runs through this discussion is Milton’s own self-image: as he takes responsibility for defining the vocation of the people, and for analysing the causes of their defection from that high calling, his own role comes under scrutiny both from himself and from his enemies.

In the latest edition of the Journal of Markets & Morality, David V. Urban provides a thorough examination of “Liberty, License, and Virtuous Self-Government in John Milton’s Writings.”

A famous representative quote representing Milton’s anthropology of liberty, particularly as expressed in the distinction between liberty and license, comes from his 1649 treatise The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates: “For indeed none can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license.” As Urban writes,

Milton’s understanding of license inevitably includes the idea of abusing freedom to pursue some sort of fleshly indulgence, whereas his concept of genuine liberty focuses on the freedom for the moral person to live a virtuous life and pursue virtuous goals under the strictures of his own conscience in spite of the temptations and roadblocks offered by intemperate persons, stifling custom, or an interfering state. Significantly, Milton’s explicitly Christian ideal of genuine liberty emphasizes the need for virtuous self-government to characterize the truly free individual.

Subscribers can read the rest of Urban’s article now, and if you aren’t a subscriber to JMM, become one today.